St. John’s Break-out Band of the Year a Product of Circumstance and Experimentation

Check out the great backstory on one of the best new local bands in ages

Local break-out band of the year Jonny & the Cowabungas have recently released their much anticipated debut album, Walt and Derek’s Wild Ride — and it’s so good it doesn’t even need words. In fact, only “Lady Death” has vocals.

After about a year of getting people hooked on their energetic live shows in local bars or festivals like Lawnya Vawnya, they’ve released the songs just in time for a growing audience to sample the goods they’ll be playing at upcoming festivals like Shed Island II and Harbourage. Walt and Derek of the album title refer to the band’s bongo and keyboard players, as well as the butt models on the album’s cover.

How Minneapolis-based Lawnchair Records found the Band …

With a little luck and hard work, and a lot of good songs, good music will punch through. As has been the case for Jonny & the Cowabungas — a relatively new band, discovered by a American label, Lawnchair Records, who caught a listen of these guys online and reached out.
Secret East — a fabulous non-mainstream arts blog covering the Atlantic Canadian scene — have a regular video series, called “A Night With [band name here],” where they shoot a band playing a song or two. Lawnchair Records heard Jonny & the Cowabungas’ Secret East Video
“Cameron had an immediate interest in what we were doing, and messaged us to see if we were interested in putting something out on his label. We were totally surprised, because we were a super new band that had only played a handful of shows.”
Naturally they were surprised and stoked. “We managed to record ‘Drunk On Wine’ for the first Lawnchair Records compilation tape, and then we continued from there, with our full length to be stocked in his distro in August!”

Band Origins: A Backburner Project That Blew Up …

“It was pretty much this bizarre experiment devoted to playing instruments none of us really played in a genre that we weren’t familiar with playing.”

“It was never really anything we took too seriously,” Jonny says. “We were already in a bunch of other bands with each other, so this was kind of the back burner project. I was in the midst of first learning how to play guitar and Mitch (drummer) and I had been on this huge Garage Rock/Surf kick for a while.”

Jonny says “I wanted to write music that challenged me, instead of just playing power chords all the time, and it seemed like surf music was a genre that would be fun to play, so I tried to write things that were way riffier than anything I could actually play.”

It helped a lot that “we’d both been living in a notorious punk house on pleasant street, that had a basement and drum kit set up, ready to go. We jammed there, just the two of us, for a long time until we kind of honed in on a certain sound that definitely lended itself to what we were both listening to at the time.”

“Then we got Brendon to play bass, and the songs started to really come together. Then, about a week before our first show, we got Walt and Derek (because you can’t have one without the other) to play with us on instruments neither of them had really played before either.”

“So it was pretty much this big role reversal of musicianship in this bizarre experiment devoted to playing instruments none of us really played in a genre that we weren’t familiar with playing. I’m still surprised that it all kind of worked out.”

For anyone digging their sound, the band has a few favourites worth your time: “Some of our favorites include The Mummies, Dry Feet, La Luz, Nude Beach, The Growlers, Surf Curse, Sandy Pussy and Guantanamo Baywatch.”

Lack of Lyrics Initially a Product of Circumstance …

Would the words only get in the way of the energy in their songs and performances? It doesn’t really run that deep for the band; the answer is far better than yes or no. “The whole reason we decided against having lyrics in the first place was because we didn’t have any by the time our first show for Shed Island came around.”

After that, “we just went with it. Musically speaking, if we were worrying about trying to sing over all of the songs we probably wouldn’t play as well as we do.”

Not having to worry about lyrics and vocals turned out to be liberating — removing that aspect of songwriting and performance let them “just get silly and drunk and put on a good live show. Lady Death was the first song I ever wrote, so I always tell people that we’re not actually an instrumental band, it just takes us a year and a half to write lyrics for a song.”

Stream the new album here: https://jonnycowabunga.bandcamp.com
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